May 8, 2014

Frazier Glenn Miller, Nazi violence, and the state

In the 1980s, Frazier Glenn Miller was one of the most prominent white supremacist leaders in the United States. Lately he's been in the news again -- sometimes identified as Miller, sometimes as Frazier Glenn Cross -- charged with shooting dead three people at two Jewish centers in the Kansas City metro area on April 13.

Miller’s story -- even the fact that he goes by two different last names -- dramatizes the profound shift in government security forces' relationship with the the U.S. far right over the past few decades. This issue has received little or no attention since Miller's April 13th arrest.

Miller is a Vietnam veteran and former Green Beret who was kicked out of the Army in 1979 for distributing racist propaganda. As a member of the National Socialist Party of America, Miller helped to organize a coalition of Klansmen and Nazis in North Carolina called the United Racist Front, which carried out the Greensboro massacre on November 3, 1979. That day, a caravan of URF men drove to an anti-Klan rally organized by the Communist Workers Party, unloaded their guns, and shot five people to death. URF members were twice acquitted for the massacre by all-white juries. Miller was present at the scene and later declared, "I am more proud of the 88 seconds I spent in Greensboro on November 3, 1979, than I am of the twenty years I spent in the U.S. Army" (Martin Durham, White Rage, p. 44). He was never indicted for his role in the killings.

The Greensboro massacre was a pivotal event for the U.S. far right in two ways. On one hand, it was a high water mark of far right violence carried out with the involvement or sponsorship of government security services. An agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was part of the URF and in later court testimony about the massacre "characterized his role as an undercover agent as one that gave people with a known propensity for illegal activity the ‘opportunity to violate the law.'" (This was under a Democratic administration, by the way.)

The URF also included a man who was an informant for both the FBI and the local police. As Joanne Wypijewski reported in a 2005 article for Mother Jones, "At the time of the killings, the police special agent in charge of the Klan informant was at the back of the [URF] caravan, having trailed it to the site. He did not intervene, or radio for help, or trip a siren, or pursue the killers as nine of their vehicles got away. Arrests occurred only because two police officers broke ranks and apprehended a van."

I've seen several news reports since Miller's recent arrest that note his involvement in the Greensboro killings, but none that mention the role of federal agencies. (For more on the federal security services' history of involvement with the paramilitary far right, see my 2012 post, "Liberal counterinsurgency versus the paramilitary right."

The Greensboro massacre was also pivotal because it broke the suspicion and animosity that for decades had kept Klansmen and Nazis at odds with each other. After this event, collaboration, cross-over, and interchange between the two branches of the far right became much more common. As a result, the movement's ideological center of gravity shifted from segregationism to fascism -- away from restoring the old racial order, to new dreams of creating a new whites-only homeland or overthrowing the U.S. government entirely.

Glenn Miller was in the thick of this change. A few months after Greensboro, he formed the Carolina (later Confederate) Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which in 1985 changed its name to the White Patriot Party. The WPP advocated an independent Southern White Republic. Leonard Zeskind reports that its activists "typically wore camouflage uniforms, regularly engaged in paramilitary-style training, and some illegally acquired weapons from nearby military bases…. [B]y 1986 Miller's White Patriot Party had over 1,000 members in North Carolina alone. Some reports indicated that 150 members had once been Special Forces soldiers."

The WPP formed a relationship with the underground paramilitary group called The Order, which declared war on the U.S. government, robbed banks and armored cars, assassinated a Jewish talk show host, and engaged in shootouts with the police. The Order gave $200,000 or more of the money it stole to Miller's organization. In 1986, Miller himself went underground and issued his own declaration of war against blacks, gays, Jews, judges, and "despicable informants" (Mab Segrest, "Deadly New Breed," Southern Exposure, Spring 1989, p. 60).

But in 1987 Miller was caught and turned state's witness. He fingered two of his former WPP assistants for the murders of three men in a Shelby, North Carolina gay bookstore. The next year, he testified for the prosecution in the Ft. Smith, Arkansas trial of fourteen white supremacist leaders for seditious conspiracy -- all of whom were acquitted. In exchange for his testimony, Miller spent only three years in prison, instead of the twenty-plus years he was originally facing, and entered the witness protection program. He got the name Frazier Glenn Cross and a new Social Security number when he was released in 1990.

Zeskind argues that the plea bargain deal with Miller was a bad choice for the federal government. "I believe that Miller was essentially playing a game with the feds. And I don’t think he had any intention of becoming a good witness. The guy was a stone-to-the-bone Nazi… He never gave that up. I am on the record as saying the man should have died in prison."

I certainly agree that Miller deserved worse than he got. But even if his court testimony was useless, that doesn't necessarily mean the federal government got nothing out of the deal. He may well have provided information that the feds used in other ways -- we simply don't know. [To clarify this point further, the feds are primarily concerned with keeping the far right under control as a potential political threat, not necessarily with preventing or punishing acts of violence. -- ML 6/10/2014] In any case, by turning him the feds hurt morale and fueled dissension among white supremacists. Thirty years ago, Miller was one of the most admired people in the movement. Now, his former comrades loathe and despise him as an FBI informant: "human garbage," "a RAT," "a man who deserves the time honored penalty for treason."

And at this point, we also have to remember the Greensboro massacre. Because it's absurd to ask whether the federal government prosecutes Nazi violence "effectively" unless we recognize that this same government has also aided and abetted Nazis in killing people.